Today on the Doc on the Run Podcast, we’re talking about the one goal you should have when you get a running injury.
There is really only one goal you need to have when you get a running injury. Now just this week, I was speaking at the International Foot & Ankle Foundation meeting in Lake Tahoe, and basically I was lecturing to a group of physicians, podiatrists, foot and ankle surgeons, all about running injuries. I gave three different talks, and one of them was on specifically about tendon injuries in athletes, and what we can do differently to help you get back to activities sooner.
At the end of one of the talks, there was a question and answer session, and doctors ask different questions, but one really interesting question that came from Dr. Thomas was whether or not there’s something to do differently when you negotiate with athletes.
And specifically, she asked, “What do you do exactly when a runner basically tries to renegotiate their activity level with you, the doctor?”
And I said, “Look, this is probably one of the most valuable things you’ll get from this, the entire weekend, honestly, with what I’ve said.”
During the conference lectures I talked about stress fractures, I talked about tendon injuries, I talked about how the standard of care really doesn’t work for runners and athletes in general, but I said, “This is a good question! Because of all the stuff I’ve said at this conference, I think that for most doctors, this can be the most helpful thing you can learn about helping runners.”
What frustrates a lot of doctors is you are a runner, right? You get injured, but you want to run! That’s just the way it is.
Yesterday I ran five miles on a trail. My knee was hurting, and I ran anyway. So it wasn’t a big deal, and I knew it wasn’t a big deal, because I understand what’s going on with the injury. But it’s not really a major injury, it’s just I hit it when I was rock climbing, and it was kinda sore, but it was only a five mile run. But all runners do this. I do it, you do it, every runner does it. There’s several reasons that happens and I think it’s really important to think of a couple of key things.
The first thing is this: when you’re injured, you have to face it. You really do have to have a shift in your mindset. This is something you have to do, and it’s crucial if you really want to recover as quickly as possible. You got injured, basically while you were hopefully sticking with your training plan, but it may have been because you deviated from your training plan, you stacked a couple of workouts too close together, you got injured.
What every runner wants to do is they want to stick to that schedule. They see that schedule, it’s posted on their wall, it’s posted on their computer, they have it as a reminder on their phone, or whatever. And you know that you really have to do all those workouts and you believe if you don’t do all of those workouts, you will not achieve your goal. And that is not necessarily true.
You have to have this shift in your mindset where you say, “Okay, look. I’m injured. I have one thing, one structure, one bone, one tendon, one ligament, whatever. One part that is injured. But the rest of my body is strong. And I can strengthen everything else, continue to build everything else, so that when I actually start running, I’m not really going to be far behind, because I’m going to maintain my fitness. I’m going to strengthen everything else, I’m going to build everything else, and I’m going to let that one injured thing heal while I do that.” So that’s the first big shift you have to make.
Second thing is, you have to realize that your schedule, that schedule that you have, your training plan, often will lead you off course and make you worse, so do not allow that to happen. Don’t just stare at your schedule when you have an aching foot, and think, “Well, I’m supposed to do 20 miles on Sunday. I have to do 20 miles on Sunday.” Don’t think that way. That will get you off course, and it will mess you up.
So in answer to this doctor’s question, she said, “How do you talk to them and when they say, well, can I just run a couple of miles or whatever?” I said, “Look, this is really simple. The most important thing you can do as an injured runner is to remember that your actual most important goal is to finish your race on time.”
Now that seems obvious, but with every single question, when people ask me, “Well, okay, can I run today…only five miles?” I say, “Okay, well, look, you have a stress fracture in your foot. Do you really think that if you run five miles today, and it hurts when you just walk on it in your living room, do you think that’s going to make it more likely or less likely that you will run 3 hours and 20 minutes in the Houston Marathon?”
So if you have a specific goal of doing 3 hours and 20 minutes at the Houston Marathon to qualify for Boston, it’s unlikely that if you basically apply the same kind of force to an injured structure that it’s going to make it more likely that you’re going to achieve your goal.
So with every single workout, everything you look at, every time that you try to renegotiate with yourself when you see your training plan and feel like you’re missing out on a workout, is to think, “Is this workout going to actually get me closer or further away from finishing my race in my desired goal time?” That’s really the most important thing. Just don’t let your schedule distract you. So you have to talk to your coach and rework your plan in accordance with whatever injury you have. You have to figure out how can you shift things so that you can recover now, and then resume training the way that your coach previously designed you, and catch back up with your schedule at some point, so that you can make that goal, and achieve that goal of finishing a race on time.
You have to talk to your doctor, and with your doctor, don’t just keep trying to renegotiate like, “Well can I just run today? Can I run tomorrow? Can I run the next day? When can I run? Is it going to be in a week, two weeks, whatever.” This is what runners do because we want to run; that’s what we enjoy. But you have to remember, there are all these other exercises, all these other activities you can do that will strengthen and fortify you, the running machine, while protecting that one injured structure, so that’s what you’ve gotta track down with your doctor. So instead of trying to get them to appease you and let you run, specifically, try to get them to give you specific exercises, specific activities, that you can do. So the question is what can I do that will actually help me maintain my running fitness without making this injury worse?
So just remember, your goal is not to stick to your training plan. When you get injured, your goal is to remember that you want to finish your race on time, and so you need to talk to your doctor specifically about all the things you can do that will help you achieve that one goal.
Pain is the best tool to help an injured runner decide when run. You don’t have to figure out what to write down. We made a simple Pain Journal PDF for you.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!